Open up. Live a little.

Aditi Parekh

Author’s note: Please read this with an open mind. If you cannot step outdoors, at least step out of your past experiences, future expectations and your present conditions, because this is as much for you as for your children. Breathe

Life is learning. As we look back at each day in the months and years we’ve come through, they seem very similar to one another. But take one yesterday out of the journey and it’s a missing piece in the puzzle. What makes each day so different from the next? Think about it… it was a new step up in some learning. This holds true for everybody – we all learn. Everyday.

This learning is shaped by the experiences we have – some we choose, some just come upon us. These experiences are of all kinds – the discovery of a shape in the clouds, a fleeting thought while falling asleep, a bout of anger after a conflict in the playground, or a fresh mindset after travelling to another culture. The beauty of experiences is in the variety; the strength is in the quality of learning we gain. To direct this experience-based learning actively on a large scale, guided by our desires and interests, is life-learning.

I read about life-learning a few months ago. I brushed it aside thinking it was too idealistic. But the little acorn of an idea was planted firmly and it grew. It grew into an enormous oak of thought that began to take root in my life. I understood that it was important to make learning choices based only on interests, because it works best. And after a small transition period, I began an active journey of life-learning.

I read a lot and write a bit, as opportunities come by. My activities include practicing Bharatanatyam and studying allied arts. My list of regular activities used to be longer, but now with these limited areas, the focus has increased tremendously. One of these passions might well turn out to be my career! Also, there is time to do a lot of more short-term or sporadic things such as conducting programmes for children, learning web designing, travelling, cooking, etc., as there is no externally dictated schedule binding me. There is harmony in what I like and what I do.

And I manage to do this because I quit school.

If the real goal is to ‘learn to do’, it is quite possible outside of school too, because there are so many sources one can learn from. As for the mandatory requirements, there is the option of open schooling.

I am completing the formal class 12 equivalent examinations through the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). Not only is it a nationally recognized board, but it also allows for wider freedom in subjects, methods and pace of learning.

In school, there are only 6 subjects or 3 streams at the higher level during the kindergarten to class 12 years. So many of those precious growing up years are spent in the same routine of rote learning from rote teaching. Learning is largely theoretical – bounded by limiting prescribed syllabi only.

While encouragement is the key to improving, punishment, humiliation and graded labeling are often used to push learning. More importantly, children’s abilities are taken for granted. The benchmark for all is academic excellence – assuming that it is the only way forward for EVERY CHILD. As impressionable, innocent minds, they trust and allow this false notion of progress to rule their mind. With authority present at every level, the child has got to obey, without thinking for himself. So at the end of the 15 or 16 years, after writing a great number of exams, the child says I have learnt. What the child has learnt, in fact, is only to obey.

The problem here is that each child is differently wired. But there is a concerted effort to make them all alike – striving for the same academic excellence. The uniqueness of each child – in terms of desires, abilities, way and pace of learning – is undermined, disrespected and cleanly forgotten. This does result in frustration for many and is a pitiable waste of the child’s unique talents.

The abilities children possess are really undermined. It is presupposed that they are stupid and that facts and values need to be poured into them. But the fact is that each of them is blessed with curiosity and sensitivity. Once harnessed, they can do wonders. IF WE LET THEM.

The fact is that we can’t handle the genius that comes in a child. Often and openly we suppress them – when the bright kid asks a smart question that happens to be beyond the syllabus or the teacher’s knowledge, when a kid wants to give alms or questions the inequality of fortune, we just shut them up. This question or action or desire is unique. And that is the sparkling dust of genius — so common, yet so often brushed away.

Remember the glee on his face when he discovered he could make noises–where did it go? What happened to the endless questions that tickled the child’s curious mind? During the first few years of life, rapid and essential learning takes place in children, in varied areas and paces. At this stage, the child is happy and blooming because the direction comes unbound from within. We have never felt the need to predetermine his first step — Who will teach him? When will he be “thorough” with it? And what role do assessment and grading play?

Because a child wants to, he WILL learn. This is as natural as life itself.

Is it possible to provide for such learning conditions to our tweens and teens? Constantly aware that I am addressing this to teachers, I know that only you can do this.

They are in your palms, waiting to be nurtured. Be the mom, the gardener, the friend, the switch button that can bring the genius out.

Give them the, “Yes I’m interested,”“Now, that’s a different thought,” or “You should tell me more” these gentle nudges can push them closer to important discoveries.

It seems so simple.

And YOU will be the experience (read: the best teacher) in his life.

Note: To read more about unschooling, read John Holt’s books or visit lifelearningmagazine.com.

The author, a 16 year old schooled at Rishi Valley school, is currently a life-learner living in Coimbatore. She is involved in experiments with and would like to reach out to alternatives in learning and schooling. She can be reached at aditi183@gmail.com.